The Synthetic Environment: New Mindset and Mission for the 29 TSS

  • Published
  • By 29th Training Systems Squadron
  • 53rd Wing
The Air Force and the Warfighter are approaching a revolution in military affairs where the synthetic environment will become more of a foundation to readiness than live-fly sorties. The data to support that claim is readily apparent and is the driving force behind the Chief of Staff’s Operational Test Training Infrastructure (OTTI) 2035 Flight Plan. The 2035 Flight Plan outlines the fact that airspace is not large enough to provide operational relevance, our ability to replicate the pacing-challenge threat at scale is lagging, and as technology advances our capability to execute mission unobserved is nearly gone.

To that end, the Combat Air Force’s sole agent for Operational Test & Evaluation of aircrew training devices – the 29th Training Systems Squadron (29 TSS) Gamecocks – is pivoting its mission focus. The shift in mindset is to ensure the test and evaluation capability that the Warfighter needs in the synthetic environment is not late-to-need, and the acquisitions process is informed by operationally relevant inputs. The Gamecock’s new mission will focus on a common, operationally relevant environment and the devices that connect to it. The change in mission will require the 29 TSS to reimagine its structure and its name.

For the first time, there is an interoperable, synthetic environment within reach that can provide a capability for tactics, techniques & procedures development, mission rehearsal, and readiness assessment against the pacing challenge. The 29 TSS is working hand-in-hand with the United States Air Force Warfare Center (USAFWC) who is leading that effort and is on-track to field the Joint Simulation Environment (JSE) in the Virtual Test and Training Center (VTTC) at Nellis Air Force Base by fiscal year 2025. While JSE was originally designed to support test for the F-35, its capability reaches beyond one airframe and one domain. In fact, there is funding support in fiscal year 2024 to acquire JSE and JSE-compatible F-22 and F-35 devices for use in the VTTC. As the VTTC environment progresses and the list of compatible devices expand, the responsibility to provide an operational test capability will fall to the 29 TSS. In addition, the VTTC and JSE will serve as the primary venue for Combat FORGE – the 29 TSS-led and CSAF-directed weapon system evaluation program (WSEP) for devices and the synthetic environment.

Talking about the need to shift mission focus is one thing; having the manpower available to do so is entirely different. The 29 TSS was organizationally structured around a mission that focused on developmental test of initial qualification aircrew training devices. That mission was best executed at locations close to those devices and their software support centers. As a result the 29 TSS currently has nine different geographically separated units ranging in size from eight people to two people. Leading an organization, managing its resources, and enabling efficient processes to meet Warfighter needs at the speed of relevance, i.e. testing and evaluating a common synthetic environment, is challenging under such an organizational structure. To solve those problems with no additional manpower resources, the 29 TSS is in the process of consolidating some of its geographically separated footprint back to the headquarters at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Additionally, the 29 TSS needs a name change. While squadron names might seem trivial, it helps other organizations understand the unit’s mission and priorities. Internally, names and designations help establish and maintain a specific culture. That is why the 29 Training Systems Squadron is processing a request to redesignate as the 29th Test and Evaluation Squadron (29 TES) and align with the rest of the 53 Wing’s mission of Operational Test & Evaluation.

Gen. Mark Kelly, Commander Air Combat Command, said in a recent interview that “all roads to Desert Storm led through the Nellis Test and Training Range (NTTR) and Red Flag. The dynamics of modern conflict and the limits of our physical range infrastructure means that all roads to peer competition and conflict will go through… [the] synthetic environments.”Success in the synthetic environment will provide the virtual arena needed to focus on the pacing challenge across the USAF, Joint, and key partner enterprises.  The 29 TSS, under the 53 WG, is primed to accelerate this capability by leading test and evaluation efforts to provide the necessary testing, tactics development, and mission rehearsal capability to prepare our Warfighters for a pacing-challenge conflict.